COC in Conversation: Gender & Opera
Digital Roundtable with Audience Q&A on YouTube and Facebook Live
Friday, March 5, 2021 | 7 - 8:30 p.m. ET

Expanding on the COC’s popular Women in Opera event, artists and thinkers from within opera and the broader arts sector come together to discuss the confluence of gender, music and drama in COC in Conversation: Gender & Opera.

Moderated by Aria Umezawa, Canadian stage director, consultant, and co-founder of Amplified Opera (COC’s new Disruptor-in-Residence), this virtual event features a panel of creators and performers who regularly confront the question of how gender constructs affect those working in opera, the art form itself, and beyond: Avery Jean Brennan, Jonathan Christopher, Ensemble Studio artist Jonah Spungin and Amplified co-founders Teiya Kasahara 笠原貞野, Marion Newman and Asitha Tennekoon. Learn more about our panelists below.

Thank you for joining us for COC in Conversation: Gender & Opera. The virtual event has been recorded is available to re-watch below!



Aria Umezawa
is a portfolio artist who is changing the culture of opera and opera creation. She recently completed an Adler Fellowship with San Francisco Opera (SFO)– the first stage director to be awarded the fellowship in fifteen years. She was the first Canadian stage director to participate in the Merola Opera Program in 2016, where she directed the Grand Finale to critical acclaim. She is the Co-Founder of Amplified Opera, an organization that places equity-seeking artists at the centre of public discourse.

In 2018, Aria developed Safe to Run: Bystander Intervention Training for the Rehearsal Room with Opera McGill and the San Francisco Opera Center. She has run the workshop at opera companies across North America. She presented on the topic of Anti-Harassment Policies and Stage Intimacy Techniques at the OPERA America Conference in June 2019, and presented at the 2020 OPERA America Artistic Administrators Forum on Building a Healthier Company Culture for Artists. In 2018 she was a speaker on the Gender Equity in Opera panel at the inaugural Opera Changing Worlds Education Summit. Aria’s writing on the practice of whitewash casting in opera was published in The Globe and Mail in 2015.

Since 2019, Aria has been on the coaching staff at Opera McGill as their Opera Innovation Consultant, where she works with the Master’s students to produce their own opera projects. During her time at San Francisco Opera, she worked with their SFO+ Initiative, which brought experts in Design Thinking to the organization to improve audience engagement. In 2018, she led a team in devising UX Activations to the War Memorial Opera House.

Aria is also the co-founder of the independent opera company, Opera 5, and served as its Artistic Director until 2017. Her work in bringing new audiences to opera prompted a feature on entitled "Screw the Status Quo: Meet the Millennial Who Made Opera Cool." Selected directing credits include: (La) voix humaine (Against the Grain Theatre), Christmas With SOL3 MIO (San Francisco Opera); Hamlet (West Edge Opera); and an immersive interpretation of Die Fledermaus (Opera 5).

Avery Jean Brennan
(They/Them) is a Transfeminine actor, director, musical director, composer, playwright, and producer based in Tkaronto. They are currently the Production Coordinator for Bad Dog Comedy TV, and a student of Generator’s Artist Producer Training program. Over the past four years, they have facilitated workshops on Trans Inclusive Practices in the Arts, which they have led for theatre and film production companies across Canada. Recently, they were nominated for the Bra d’Or Award from the Playwrights Guild of Canada for their advocacy work. Avery Jean received their musical direction training through various Associate and Apprentice positions in theatres across Canada, including a residency through Neptune Theatre’s RBC Chrysalis Project. They have studied writing under dramaturg Christopher Weddell, composer/lyricist Leslie Arden, and through The Musical Stage Company's NoteWorthy program. Avery Jean's first original musical, The Pansy Craze, was the recipient of Queer Theatre Toronto's inaugural LGBTQ Fringe Award for pushing boundaries in representation for Queer & Trans characters in musical theatre.

Photo: Andrew Johnson


Praised for his "hearty baritone" voice, Bermudian-American Jonathan Christopher is swiftly establishing himself as a versatile vocalist around the world. Jonathan performed in the Canadian premiere of the musical Hamilton, understudying Burr and Washington. In New York, he has performed in critically acclaimed opera and musical productions at Lincoln Center (Davóne Tines and Michael Schachter’s The Black Clown), Signature Theatre (Dave Malloy’s Octet), and Brooklyn Playhouse Theatre (David Chesky’s La Farranucci). He has been involved with two musicals set to open on Broadway in the coming seasons and has performed in musicals and operas throughout North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. An absolute career and personal highlight was hosting Bermuda’s first-ever Pride in 2019 alongside his father, Bermudian Town Crier Ed Christopher. He recently won the 2020 Best of Bermuda Award with his brother Nicholas and looks forward to continuing his eclectic and ever-evolving musical journey.

Instagram: @geezjawn
Photo: Deborah Lopez

First-generation Nikkei-Canadian settler Teiya Kasahara 笠原貞野 (they/them) is a queer, gender non-binary, interdisciplinary creator-performer. Heralded as “a force of nature” (Toronto Star) and “an artist with extraordinary things to say” (The Globe and Mail) Teiya comes from a background of over a decade of singing both traditional and contemporary operatic roles in North America and Europe.

Teiya is a co-founder of Amplified Opera, a new company which is bringing Canada an “injection of [...] creativity & politics of inclusivity” (barczablog) to the opera sector. Within their creation practice they explore the intersections of identity through opera, theatre, electronics, and taiko disrupting and reimagining the operatic canon through their ongoing works THE BUTTERFLY PROJECT, 夜 YORU, and THE QUEEN IN ME to premiere next season.

Teiya is the founder/head coach of the Vocal Dōjō, and makes their home in Tkarón:to.

Kwagiulth and Stó:lō, English, Irish and Scottish mezzo-soprano Marion Newman “sings with rich, opulent tone, and her delivery pulses with the multiple meanings of her duplicitous existence." (Opera News) Roles she has been acclaimed for include Rosina and Carmen, Dr. Wilson in Missing and she was nominated for a Dora Award in the title role of Shanawdithit. Working directly with composers to sing new works into the air is a major source of inspiration. During the pandemic, Marion is working on rising to the expectations of her talented and respected colleagues who continue to give her opportunities to try her voice as a speaker, teacher, facilitator and dramaturg at universities, opera companies, arts organizations and as a Co-Founder of Amplified Opera.

Photo by Howard J. Davis

Ottawa native Jonah Spungin earned his master’s degree in voice and opera from McGill University and graduated from Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Program. Recent credits include Marullo in Rigoletto, Mike Groom in Everest, King Melchior in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Paris in Roméo et Juliette (Calgary Opera); Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Gideon March in Little Women (Opera McGill); Baron Mirko Zeta in The Merry Widow, and Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore (McGill Savoy Society). He also created the role of Ludovic Athenodorus in the world premiere of Ghost Opera (Calgary Opera and The Old Trout Puppet Workshop). As a concert soloist, he has performed the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the McGill Symphony Orchestra and Calgary Philharmonic and has been the baritone soloist in Fauré's and Goodall's Requiems. Jonah is a current member of the COC Ensemble Studio.

Sri Lankan tenor Asitha Tennekoon is a Dora Award-winning performer based in Toronto. His opera credits include performances with Opéra de Montréal, Vancouver Opera, Tapestry Opera, Against the Grain Theatre, and Soundstreams Canada. As a concert soloist he has performed with many organizations around Canada, including Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Tafelmusik, Regina Symphony Orchestra, Ottawa Choral Society, and the Toronto Bach Festival. Asitha is a co-founder of Amplified Opera.


Curious about some of the topics that came up in Gender & Opera roundtable? Check out some of these resources around LGBTQ+ issues and language:

Glossary of Terms (Human Rights Campaign)
A simple guide to common terminology around sexual orientation and gender identity.

Links and Resources (
A comprehensive list of resources and information for LGBTQ+ people, and their families, living in Canada, compiled from the most commonly requested resources on the helpline. These include such categories as crisis, legal, health and settlement resources, in addition to resources for families, allies, and specific LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.

Personal Gender Pronouns (University of Milwaukee LGBTQ+ Resource Centre)
A guide to the most common gender pronouns in use, with FAQ and historical note.

Gender Identity: A Primer for People Who Just Don’t Get It  (Amy C. Waninger, 2017)
A quick primer on some of the statistics relating to gender identity issues, language and terminology, helpful tips and further resources for those curious to learn more about gender beyond the binary.

The Transgender Language Primer
A comprehensive lexicon of terminology for members of the transgender community as well as a medical, mental health and social professionals.

The 519
Information about the 519, a Toronto city agency and charity providing resources, support and space for LGBTQ+ in the Church and Wellesley area.

Egale Canada
Information about Egale, a national organization committed to advancing equality and justice for LGBTQ+ people, and their families, across Canada.

Banner photo: Teiya Kasahara in The Queen In Me, photo by Tanja-Tiziana


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